Airport Observations

I hang up my phone in amusement. My ride was still at home, in a half-sleep stupor but awake enough to brush away my insistence to take a cab. I didn’t mind hanging around for a while. The arrival section of the airport is a lovely place to people watch and I’m usually in such a hurry to leave that I pay little attention to my surroundings. I settle down in a corner, with my luggage at my feet and a book on my lap so that I don’t feel too awkward.

The duration of the flight is visible on some passenger’s faces as they make their way past me. The long haul flyers have pained looks on their faces as they lug around their screaming children and attempt to balance hand luggage, infant, headache and trolley. Too tired to muster a thank you to the cleaning lady who helps them with the trolley, they don’t walk; instead they flop with fatigue towards the luggage belt.

I spot pockets of women wearing abayas but minus their head scarves. My curiosity is piqued. This is rare. The abaya is always, always accompanied by some form of head covering. I suddenly realize that the Middle Eastern flights must have landed and these must be housemaids (or Domestic Help, for the politically correct) returning home. Having landed in Katunayake, they had clearly discarded  the head covering which is compulsory for women in the Middle East.

There are certain staple characters at every airport and as I sat there, I spot a few.  There is the Frequent Flyer. Usually a business man/woman, impeccably attired – not too casual, not too formal – completely at home in the airport, equipped with a enviable mastery of being able to stuff a week’s worth of clothes and necessities in a smart, medium sized travel bag (usually a Samsonite).  I say, enviable because I’m usually the Overweight Passenger (luggage weight, not body weight. I feel it necessary to clarify this) who resolutely attempts to get the poker faced flight official to wave the few excess kilos away. I’m not proud of it but I’ve reluctantly come to terms  with the fact that I will never be able to travel light.

Then there is the Well Dressed Woman. You know the kind. The WDW is a rare species which steps in and out of the flight flawlessly attired, lipstick immaculate and hair in place. While the rest of the populace attempt to smoothen their plane hair (twice removed cousin of helmet hair) and crumpled clothes, she breezes through the airport in 6 inch heels effortlessly without a single trace of the flight visible on her demeanour.

There is the foreigner who has arrived to ‘find herself’ and immerse herself in the Exotic Orient. Harem pants, beads, tattered backpack and a Lonely Planet guide are key indicators. There is also the Elderly Traveller with a perpetual look of bewilderment, determinedly clutching onto their baggage and passport lest someone runs away with it. Every flight is a new adventure and the ET is usually the only person who pays close attention to the emergency rules announcement at the beginning of a flight.

There is always a tourist in every airport. The Tourist travels in packs or clusters of 5 or less. The more obvious Tourist is usually found with a fanny pack and sports shoes. The clusters are loud groups which congregate at the airport, cracking jokes among their peers, crumpled printed itineraries stored in their bag.

I hear someone call my name and I look up in surprise. There’s a face looking down at me expectantly and I find myself in a SSM (Small Social Pickle). I know I know this person but I can’t remember how or where I know him from or what his name is. One of the things which strike me as I struggle to place him is that he has a kind, sympathetic face and I experience a strange déjà vu  feeling of having this thought before, when I first met him years ago.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Clearly I’m more transparent than I realize. He remembers my name and so I’m forced to lie to save face. Of course, I do, I reply. He’s nice enough not to call my bluff and after some cursory small talk, he leaves and I return to pretending to read.

The Duty Free heavy weights are making their way. A mother-son pair emerges from the lift. The mother is beaming and there is a proud (but not in an arrogant way) tilt in the son’s chin as he pushes a fridge on a trolley. A gift for his mother maybe? As I sit there, the flight crew of various airlines pass by frequently. I keep a lookout for familiar faces – a few friends work in the industry– but don’t spot any. There was a time when the travel perks of being a part of an airline had a strange fascination for me (and seemed worth the toil and flak I’ve seen cabin crew put up with). I was much younger and the attraction of a new country every week was extremely alluring.

There’s a man hunting for a pen to fill out the declaration forms for his brand new LED TV. He’s approached four people by now and the frustration on his face is apparent. He’s yet to ask me, strangely. I’m afraid my Alone Face is also my Leave Me Alone Face – a Delhi survival mechanism I have unconsciously adopted – and I probably don’t look very inviting or pen-friendly. I take out a pen from my backpack and signal him over. His furrowed face breaks out into a grin and he heads over to the other side of the lounge to fill out the paperwork.

My phone rings. My ride is here.  I’ve only read 6 pages of my book. As I clumsily get my belongings together, I realize that I’m exhausted. The frantic dash during a brief transit was finally taking its toll.   It feels good to be back. I wish I remembered that guy’s name though.

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Beautiful People

Darjeeling and Gangtok were filled with some of the most evocative faces I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.  (Last of the Holiday posts, I swear)

The story teller.  Our driver to Changu Lake regaled us with the most fascinating stories about some of the myths surrounding the lake.  He also took some excellent pictures with my friend’s camera. I have a feeling he might be in the wrong profession.

Karate Kid

The Barbershop

Little boy doing a big man’s work

Left: Boy-priest who became visibly agitated when tourists insisted on posing with the various Buddha statues in the monastery and tried to coax him into posing with them.  (I loathe that kind of blatant irreverence at places of worship. My sympathies were with the monk)

The chap with the snazzy headgear is Wong. He refused to pose for a picture but then graciously deigned to be photographed when I complimented him on his hat. Bottom left, adorable, serious faced little girl we met along with her dad at Darjeeling. Also, isn’t the smile on the girl at the top right  too cute?

Thai Priestess, Gangtok

The two ladies in the middle have been friends since childhood 🙂

Marble Beach, Trinco

 

Sunrise, Trinco, a few years ago.

 

As a child, most of our holidays were spent in Trinco. Despite the war, the pull would be too great for my dad to resist. He was in his element only in Trinco, and holiday after holiday, to Trinco we went.

I have two pictures of Trinco embedded in my mind. One was near the harbour. We’d been out for a walk early morning. My grandfather looking curiously out of place in the backdrop of the sea, standing tall with a walking stick, woollen vest (he felt cold in the mornings) and hat; my sister, chubby and shiny eyed and I, young, bespectacled, awkward, grinning at the camera. I loved walking along the harbour. My grandfather would point out interesting sights and if we got up early enough, we’d be able to buy fresh fish as soon as the fishermen pulled into the harbour with their catch.

The other picture is at Fort Frederick. I’m posing with a deer and I’ve got the most delighted expression on my face (‘Maa! Look! I’m feeding a deer!’)

I’ve ‘done’ most of the touristy stuff ages ago so when the war ‘concluded’ years later, I was all ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt’ when everyone rushed to Trinco.

The Fort Frederick I remember was a solitary one with heavy security and lazy deer. Earlier they wouldn’t let vehicles in. So that long drive that vehicles take from the entrance to Koneswaram Temple? We had to walk it. Lovers leap fascinated me. There’s something morbidly beautiful about the sheer drop into turquoise waters, lined by rocks.

We’d been to the Hot Springs years ago, taken the ferry to Kinniya (the ferry has been discontinued now. There’s a bridge instead. Safe, but terribly boring. I miss clutching the edge of the railing, looking at the murky waters, thinking I’MGOINGTODIETODAAAY), eaten oysters in Kinniya, barfed out oysters in Kinniya, visited Muttur, wandered through old cemeteries and been to Nilawali.

When I went back home for the Summer, we returned to Trinco for a very overdue visit. We hadn’t visited Pigeon Island before, so that was priority on our agenda. We were also given a tour of the Prima Factory (we knew a guy who knew a guy).

View from the top of the Prima Factory. The little, obscure dots at the bottom are trucks.

 

Pigeon Island was beautiful but I was a little appalled at how crowded Nilaweli had become. The once pristine, isolated beaches had been taken over by grandmothers gallivanting in kaftans and bus loads of school boys.

Pigeon Island

 

Pigeon Island

 

Crowds at Nilaweli. Please note man chilling in the sand.

My dad casually mentioned that this was a good bathing spot which he used to frequent as a boy and we wanted to get away from the crowds, so we headed to Marble Beach. I don’t know if it was because we went on a weekday or if tourists haven’t caught onto it yet, but apart from three families the entire beach was deserted and the waters were absolutely heavenly. Think blue skies, perfectly still water, clean shores and coconut trees – the kind of stuff postcards are made of. I don’t have any good pictures, sadly (I was too excited about getting into the water).

Token picture. Marble Beach, Trincomalee

I’m a little curious as to how the name came about but Marble Beach is maintained by the Air force. You aren’t allowed to take any food beyond the car park and there aren’t any hotels in the vicinity so you’ll have to rough it out with sparse, open air shower areas.  The thing is, for all my love for the sea I *shuffles feet* can’t swim. And Marble beach is perfect for the aquatically challenged like me. The boys went snorkelling (the Air Force has instructors who supervise) but I was perfectly content floating along.

After we returned to Colombo I was told that the Air Force runs a beach resort here. They also have a site with a very long domain name.  I didn’t feel any ‘whispers of the wind’, but I can vouch for the sunburn. Listen to Baz Luhrmann. Wear sunscreen.

I wish I’d discovered this place a little sooner. Its tough finding nice, isolated beaches back at home this days – definitely heading back here the next time we head to Trinco.

 

Shimla

 

When I moved to India, I promised myself that I would try and do as much travelling out of Delhi, as I could. A lot of stuff that goes on with me, goes undocumented on this blog but I vowed that at least my Indian excursions should be recorded for posterity. I’ve posted one here but I’m already two trips behind. But Shimla was the latest.

I kept vacillating, wondering whether to go or not. We were leaving soon after our last exam and while there was a part of me that really wanted to go, another part kept yelling ‘homehomehomehomehome’. As you’ve probably realized, I went and I’m glad I did.

 

Down Mall Road

 

Shimla constantly reminded me of Musoorie (forgive me, I’m prone to generalization). It had the old-town feel with all the colonial architecture and general laid-back atmosphere. A bit Nuwara Eliya like really, but with higher mountains and large sloping hills.

We stopped at a river called ‘thattapaani’ (literal translation: hot water) I loved the pebbles by the banks and lugged a whole bunch with me back home. They’re currently chilling in a bowl of water in my living room.

 

Policeman in snazzy uniform. Kept shooing tired tourists who kept coming and sitting at his post.

My friend had the quaintest (I hate using this word. I sound like such a tourist, but there’s no other word for it) cottage about 3 hours away from the main town, surrounded by orchards filled with fruit trees. How adorable is this?

The cottage

View from the top.

 

Most of our family vacations were spent by coastal areas. We’re all beach people and the mere thought of even heading to the hills was blasphemous. My family likes chilled out vacations. Give us a bunch of books, the beach, good food, good music and lots of pleasant weather and we’ll be content.

So I’ve never gone hiking or done any semblance of any sporting activity with my family. Also, I possess the magical ability to trip over flat surfaces so you can imagine my apprehension when faced with a massive mountain or any other vertical surface. I didn’t know that you’re supposed to walk zig zagged when you hike downhill etc. Hence, I’ve started to realize that my knowledge of the outdoors is hopelessly inadequate.

 

Played my first game of Monopoly.

 

 

Also read Asterix after ages! I loved Asterix as a kid and now, as an adult I love it even more. Goscinny and Uderzo were geniuses. And the English translations bring out the hidden humour and sarcasm brilliantly. Tintin who?

 

 

Tried making friends with cats and cows. Bit of a fail though. The cat ran away. The cow just stared.

 

On Mall Road, I was a little surprised to see tired looking parents pushing children as old as 6 or 7 in prams. But then we passed a ‘pram point’ of sorts with lots of prams for hire whenever the kids got too tired to walk up the sloping hills. Damn things had pianos and buttons which emitted the most horrible sounds on them. The kids loved it.

 

Mosaic interior at Cafe Sol

 

From home cooked food, soft ice cream to walnuts picked from trees, food-wise, everything was excellent

 

 

 

 

Shimla at night was beautiful.

 

Ps: No, I haven’t ditched the poetry challenge. Just a bit stuck. I’ve scoured my collection of poetry twice but I don’t seem to have a poem that is a guilty pleasure. I could probably just skip it or substitute something for it, but I feel like I should have a guilty pleasure. That fact that I don’t just bugs me.

 

 

Sir, there appears to be a cow in your establishment

Spotted in Mussoorie

Mussorie is a town around 270 km away from Delhi. It lacks the laidback vibe of Dharamsala and there’s not much to see but it’s one of those places you’d want to go with your family and indulge in some excellent food. We were staggering back to our hotel (the food in Mussoorie took a toll on our waistline. Also, amazing coffee) and to our amusement saw this lady casually sauntering into this store.

Discovering Dharamsala

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Dharamsala is probably one of the most laid back places I’ve seen in a while. The climate is excellent, the cheap cafes which dot the roadside are absurdly affordable and the people, incredibly chilled out. We visited it recently and true to form, I was the FOB tourist lagging behind (not so) subtly trying to take pictures of the Tibetan people and drinking the atmosphere in. This post is mostly pictures – I haven’t done any proper writing (essays don’t count) in a while and I’m struggling to get my groove back.



We visited a monastery,

Which had vivid wall paintings,


 There was also this line of wheel-things (no idea what you call them) which you are supposed to turn in a particular direction to bring you good luck. We happily turned them only to discover that we were turning them in the wrong direction. If my legs suddenly fall off, I’ll know why.


We hiked for 18 fricking kilometers and stopped for a break inbetween

By the time we reached the top, we were too exhausted to enjoy the view.

We collapsed onto the chai (tea) huts at the top of the mountain to coax the owner for bowls of steaming maggi and proceeded to devour it with a ferocity which startled our newly acquired canine companions

A visit to the McLeod Ganj market was made.
(sadly overpriced) stoles

I bought a pair of – wait for it – drop crotch pants. I have no idea where I will wear it but I can say with utmost pride that I now own a pair of bright blue and black printed drop crotch pants. Other unnecessary items (bright pink and orange trousers. No, I’ve no idea what I was thinking either) and bunch of gifts for assorted people were also purchased.


I had to stop myself from buying this woollen sweater,

these wooden cats

and this gorgeous horse. (“You have no money. You have no money. You really don’t have any money!”)

Food porn




Our return journey was… eventful. Our travel agent promised us that the entire coach had been booked and when we got into the train at night, we were rudely shocked to find it full. The problem with the ticketing system over here is that anyone can walk into the station and get onto the train. The ticket is checked only once you’re actually on the train. This, as can be expected, is brilliant for free loaders who hop onto the train, claim empty seats and slip the conductor a bribe. So we found ourselves with no seats, a coachful of lecherous men and a very, very drunk travel agent. Fun times.

 Bonfire at night

 View from the hotel

Cool cardholder
More stuff from the market.

Supposedly haunted church
I have a feeling I left vital body parts at the top of that god awful mountain we climbed and we could have done without the eventful train ride back– but all in all, no regrets.